Seraphina Guidry loves Butterfly Bayou. A young, single mom, she’s trying to find a place for herself in the town she cherishes, but past mistakes have made her wary. She adores her son but has sworn off men. She's dedicated herself to restoring an historic house and building her own business. A quiet life is all she wants.
Harrison Jefferys never expected to find himself in small-town Louisiana, but he has a job to do and a family to reconnect with. After years in the Army, he’s happy to spend time with his Aunt Celeste and his cousins in such an idyllic spot. When he meets Seraphina, he starts to think Papillion might be a great place to call home. But a secret from Sera’s past rears its head and threatens to tear the community apart.
Caught between the woman he’s coming to love and the only family he has left, Harry knows he has to follow his heart and with the help of the crazy, loving, meddling locals find a way to keep them both.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“Have you seen the new guy?”
Seraphina Guidry glanced over at her best friend. Hallie Rayburn had slid in next to her a few moments before, and she was practically vibrating with excitement. Gossip. The whole town ran on it. The good news was Sera loved some juicy gossip. “New guy?”
She kept her voice down in deference to the crowd around them.
“I got a look at him last night at the Piggly Wiggly,” Hallie explained in a hushed voice. “I had to go buy diapers because Johnny said he would pick them up but then he forgot and blamed it all on breathing in fumes from the rig. He knows I’m scared of that. Anyway, he was napping with Gracie despite the fact that child smelled to high heaven. I think the oil rig has permanently ruined the man’s sense of smell.”
If Sera didn’t get Hallie back on track, her bestie would end up giving a speech about how Johnny wasn’t paid enough to work on a rig since it would give him every kind of cancer and there really probably were crazy sea creatures that would eat him one day. She should never have let Hallie watch that mutant shark movie. “You were talking about the new guy.”
If houses were towns, Papillon, Louisiana, would be one of those tiny houses where the bedroom was also the kitchen. And in a super-small town, anyone new was the focus of immediate gossip. The town had really buzzed when Gene Boudreaux’s eighty-two-year-old friend from Facebook had come for a visit.
Hallie nodded and glanced around as if looking to see whether anyone was listening. “So I was in the baby section of the Piggly Wiggly and I decided to take a walk, you know, look at the expensive vegetables I can never get Johnny to eat. I kind of fondle them, to be honest. But then I looked up and there he was in that weird section where they keep the kids’ toys and the tools. According to what I’ve heard, he’s some kind of contractor and the hardware store had closed and he needed a hammer or something. I don’t know. I needed a cold shower after I saw him.”
“Hallie, you’re married.” Sera felt the need to point that out because she knew quite well everyone was listening. Well, everyone who could hear them, which was hopefully not a lot of people.
“I’m married but I can still appreciate a work of art,” Hallie replied in a whisper. “That man glows. He has all those muscles Hollywood stars have, and when he smiled at me, I actually stammered. Me. I was the most popular cheerleader at Armstrong High and I couldn’t talk to the man. I nodded and ran away with my diapers and a bunch of asparagus I’ll have to eat myself. He’s beautiful.”
“Are you talking about that Harrison fellow?” Sera’s mother leaned in. Delphine Dellacourt Guidry was in her late sixties, but there were days Sera thought she couldn’t keep up with her momma’s never-ending energy and zest for life. “Because Sylvie told Marcelle that he was the prettiest man she’d ever seen. Zep is up in arms because, let’s face facts, his looks are all he has.”
“Momma,” she replied in a hushed whisper because Zep was her brother and he could be sensitive.
Zep leaned in from behind her. “Nah, that’s fair. Look, there’s always a trade-off. I couldn’t be both stunningly handsome and super smart. That wouldn’t be right. But I did get a look at the man and he wasn’t all that pretty. Definitely not prettier than me. He’s got a prominent forehead. I think that means he’s close to our Neanderthal ancestors.”
“You understand neither human evolution nor what women want. He’s so much prettier than you,” Hallie argued.
“He is.” Her sister-in-law, Lisa, sat behind them as well. “He came into Guidry’s last night and I swear women gawked. Not kidding. I thought Merrilee Jenkins was going to have a heart attack. I have to admit, I gawked a little, too. Remy says the new guy was in the Army and he was decorated and everything because he lost a leg.”
“He was decorated for bravery in battle and he happened to lose a leg,” her older brother chimed in. “And can we remember where we are and what we’re supposed to be doing?”
“It’s all right. I’m not starting the service for a few minutes.” Father Franklin leaned against the church pews. “Your great-aunt wouldn’t mind. She was late for everything. Are we talking about Harrison? He seems like a fine young man, Seraphina. He’s here to rebuild the grand gazebo at Beaumont House before the big wedding. He’s Celeste’s sister’s son, though they’ve never visited before. I like that she’s finding some family again. It’s been a hard few years for her.”
Because Celeste Beaumont had lost her youngest son, Wesley.
Wesley, who had been Sera’s best friend growing up. Wesley, who had fathered her child. Wesley, who had died hating her.
Sometimes she could still see him and the way he’d looked at her that day. Sometimes she could barely remember what he looked like. She couldn’t decide which was worse.
She forced the dark thoughts from her head. At least she tried to. It was hard because being at a funeral always made her think of Wes, and hearing the word Army did, too. Wes had gone into the service to get away from her.
She was the reason he’d died.
“See, he’s got a good job,” her mother was saying. “A carpenter always has work.”
“I don’t know,” Hallie replied in a way that made Sera think she’d missed something. While she’d been lost in the guilt well, the conversation had gone down a whole other path. “It’s been months since she’s been on a date. I think this guy might be like diving into the deep end of the pool when she’s forgotten how to swim.”
“Nah, Sera can handle him,” Zep said. “But she might not want to because she’s an independent woman and I’ve been told they don’t like to be set up on dates. Apparently they like to troll bars and find men all by themselves.”
“She was having a beer,” Lisa shot back like this was a well-worn argument. “She wasn’t trolling for a date. And you should keep your nose out of Roxie’s business. She hasn’t arrested you in a while. I think it’s a great idea to set up Sera and the new guy. Hallie’s right. She hasn’t been dating and she needs to get back out there.”
Whoa. She had definitely missed something. “I am not getting set up.”
“Of course not, dear.” Her mother patted her hand. “Don’t think of it as a setup. You’re showing the new guy around town, and if he happens to take you to a nice dinner where you put on a pretty dress and follow up dinner with some dancing, that’s a plus.”
“I am not going out with the new guy.” The thought was horrifying. Hallie was right. She hadn’t been on a single date in almost eight months. She’d put it all on hold after the Jackson Lane debacle. She’d concentrated on her son and finishing up cosmetology school and starting her business.
Turned out she pretty much hated being a hairdresser and she wasn’t all that great at it, but wasn’t that the story of her life? The last thing she needed was to throw a guy into the mix. She had a man in her life, and he was currently in the church’s day care center probably stuffing something he shouldn’t into his mouth.
Father Franklin gave her a shake of his head. He’d been the parish priest for most of her life, and the man could make her feel like she was eight years old again getting caught sneaking cookies before lunch. “God wants us to try new things, Seraphina.”
“I don’t think he wants me to try the new guy on for size. I’m fairly certain he’s opposed to that,” Sera shot back.
“Kindness is what God wants for us always,” the priest said, straightening up. “Your great-aunt Irene would have told you that.”
“My great-aunt Irene used to scare small children by taking out her dentures and hissing at them. She was a terrible person.” The only things Irene liked in this world were her cats, and Sera was fairly certain she’d trained them to attack.
“And yet the church is filled with love for her today,” the father pointed out.
“Nah.” Zep waved the thought off. “They’re here because Remy made a big old pot of gumbo. Guidry’s is catering and these cheap bastards want a free meal.”
The priest sighed as though he knew Zep wasn’t salvageable. “I think you should take the passing of your dearly beloved aunt as a sign that it’s time to start living. After all, Irene waited too long to find love and she died alone.”
“I thought she was loved by all.” Sera thought Father Franklin needed to stick to one story. “Which one is it?”
He shrugged. “Whichever will get you to keep an open mind. Though I think maybe you should wait a bit.”
Her mother pointed the priest’s way. “Only because your nephew is coming into town next month.”
“Archie is a wonderful boy. He’s going to be looking to settle down.” Father Franklin backed away. “We should get together, Delphine. You know there’s nothing wrong with arranged marriages. They get a bad rap.”
“You are not dating that Archie boy.” Her mother sat back and fanned herself with the schedule. “I heard he ran through an entire sorority at that university he went to.”
“I’m not dating anyone,” Sera insisted. She certainly wasn’t about to get set up at her great-aunt’s funeral. She didn’t want to get set up at all. The last few months had been hard enough. She’d watched as her great-aunt had gotten more and more frail. And bitter. It had all fallen to her because for some reason she was the only one in the family who got along with Aunt Irene.
She’d been the one who’d dealt with the funeral home, selected the coffin, and picked out Aunt Irene’s best muumuu for the funeral. She was also the one who’d found homes for sixteen cats.
Was she going to end up with sixteen cats, a closet full of housedresses, and video tapes of every episode of Murder, She Wrote? She glanced down at the bio she’d written. It was nothing more than a list of dates. When her aunt was born. When she died. Where she graduated from high school and how long she’d worked at the DMV. A single paragraph to sum up a whole life.
Would she even need a paragraph?
“It’s probably for the best,” Hallie whispered because the church choir was starting to hum. “I heard that Kellie Boyce bet Jenny Halstrom that she would have Harrison Jefferys eating out of the palm of her hand within a week. You know she’s been on the prowl ever since she got back into town. I also heard he won’t be staying long. The rumor is he’s kind of a drifter.”
Her mother shook her head. “Men like that only drift until they find a reason to settle down.”
“Or until the police catch up to them because they use their good looks to facilitate their murder sprees.” Sera might have been watching too much Dateline, but she wasn’t about to become a cautionary tale. Not again. She was the example every mother in town used to steer their daughters away from premarital sex. Don’t let your boyfriend go too far or you’ll end up like that poor Seraphina Guidry. She wasn’t about to add being murdered to her résumé of bad choices.
“Delphine, Remy.” A cool voice had Sera’s head turning. Celeste Beaumont stood at the end of the pew. She was roughly her mother’s age but looked younger due to regularly scheduled trips to a plastic surgeon in New Orleans. The woman was still gorgeous and still as cold as ice. “Please accept my condolences on the loss of Irene.”
Her mother held her head high. “Thank you. She will be missed.”
“By who?” Zep asked, earning him a hearty smack to the back of his head from Remy. “Well, she used to turn the sprinklers on kids who tried to trick or treat her house. Sorry.”
“A little respect goes a long way,” Celeste said, settling her Chanel bag on her arm. “That’s a lesson your mother should have taught you. You’ll excuse me but I should go and join my family. Again, our condolences.”
Her mother shook her head as Celeste walked away. “I will show that woman respect. I will shove it right up that tight—”
“Momma,” Remy interrupted. “Church.”
Her mother settled back. “That woman.”
Yes, that woman. Celeste Beaumont had never liked her friendship with Wes. She’d tried to keep them apart, wanting more suitable friends for her baby boy.
What would she do if she knew Luc was Wes’s child? Angela was the only Beaumont who knew, and Wes’s sister had been adamant about keeping the secret. Angela had been the one to save her from making the worst decision of her life. Angela was probably the reason she still had custody of her son.
Sera turned toward the pulpit as Father Franklin stepped up.
“Still, you should look at him,” Hallie whispered. “Because he really is gorgeous. Is it wrong that I think it’s kind of sexy that he has a fake leg? Like he’s a bionic man.”
“Yes. It’s wrong.” It was wrong to think of anything but her son and getting them to a good place.
She didn’t have time to date. She needed to build a life.
She might even need to build that life somewhere else.
The priest began to speak and Zep began to snore.
Some things never changed. She needed to make sure she wasn’t one of them.